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House of Roman army officer discovered underground 1,800 years later


Rome subway construction delayed when workers find ancient home

New Yorker commuters might be grousing because much-needed repairs at Penn Station are causing delays and overcrowded trains. But at least they don’t have to wait for archaeologists to finish digging before work can proceed.

That’s what citizens of Rome have to put up with before they can use an already-long-delayed new subway line.

Rome’s Line C might not be up and running for another decade—or maybe two—CNN reports. It all depends on what other juicy finds workers make as they dig the tunnel. The latest find, near the Colosseum, sounds pretty exciting.

“Thirty-three feet underground, at the bottom of a concrete-lined pit, archaeologist Gilberto Pagani patiently scrapes dirt from a charred beam of wood that has laid [sic] undisturbed for around 1800 years,” the CNN report begins.

The discovery is part of a house that was destroyed by fire and may have belonged to a senior Roman army officer. The fire, though, left some things intact, including wooden beams.

“It’s an extraordinary situation,” says Rome’s archaeological superintendent Francesco Prospetti. “The collapse of the ceiling sealed everything inside. It was carbonized without being burned.”

No human remains have been found, but the skeleton of a large dog was at the bottom of the pit.

“This poor dog was already in the room during the fire,” said archaeologist Simone Morretta. “We found ashes under its paws. Probably part of the burning ceiling fell on it and there it was stuck and died.”

Morretta said that fires in ancient Rome were frequent, as houses were “full of wooden elements. Fire was used for lighting and cooking, which was done over an open flame,” she said.

Line C’s construction, which started in 2007, has yielded other surprises before this. Last spring an army barracks was discovered, and in 2009 the remains of Emperor Hadrian’s 2nd-century Athenaeum school.

It might be difficult to see it now, but one day, all the waiting should be worth it, archaeologists say.

“It was foreseen in the planning for Linea C that there would be plenty of time set aside for archaeology,” Prospetti said. “Our effort is to transform an apparent hindrance to public service into a great opportunity, by giving Rome a subway unique in the world, in which you go underground not just to take a train, but also to take a journey in history.”

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